WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — On Wednesday, Sept. 22, around 4:30 p.m., Winston-Salem officers were sent in the direction of shots being fired.
However, it’s how they got there, and who was waiting there for them, that has all of them hoping new technology within the city will help get gunmen off the streets.
“I was in the house with my grandchildren and my daughters, and we just heard eleven gunshots,” said a woman, who didn’t want to be identified, standing on the street corner when the officers arrived.
Years prior, the woman says that same corner is where she lost a life she brought into the world more than two decades prior.
“I’m a gun violence survivor,” she said. “Somebody took my son.”
FOX8 records show her son had been found shot to death next to his car, which had been parked outside of his mother’s house. For anonymity purposes at the mother’s request, FOX8 is not currently releasing further details of his murder, but it has remained unsolved.
“I try to heal from it, but with all this going on, it’s like pouring salt on a wound,” she said, referring to recent violence in the city.
There was no victim in Wednesday’s shooting. But that’s not the only difference between the two. This time, officers were alerted to the sound of gunshots by a system the Winston-Salem Police Department was first awarded grant money for in Oct. 2019.
“The technology’s a game-changer,” said Winston-Salem Lieutenant Amy Gauldin.
The Shotspotter system, which consists of acoustic sensors within a three-square-mile area of the city, is designed to detect the sound of gunfire and send an alert to officers within a minute. It became operational in August of this year.
The area the system monitors was chosen based on data showing where officers most frequently respond to gun-related service calls in the city. It also helps officers determine how many shots were fired and gives them an idea of what kind of firearm was used to better prepare while heading in that direction.
“Our communication center receives that data as well as officers receive it on their mobile apps on their phones or their computers,” Gauldin explained.
From Aug. 19 to Sept. 19, Gauldin says the department received 63 alerts from the Shotspotter system. Within those alerts, 225 gunshots were detected. Gauldin noted multiple alerts may have come in from the same incident due to spacing between individual gunshots.
“Every time I hear them, it’s just hard,” the anonymous mother said while watching officers search for shell casings in the area outside her home.
The system is merely a piece of the department’s Real Time Crime Center, which also allows officers to utilize existing cameras within the city, enabling them to monitor some of the areas where they get Shotspotter alerts.
Gauldin says the technology’s allowed them to solve crimes the department previously “may have taken months or years to solve or maybe not at all.”
The Real Time Crime Center also gives the department the capability of live access to officers’ body cameras, giving them a real-time look at responses and investigations from an officer’s point of view.
“Make it a priority,” the anonymous mother said. “Just show up.”
To her, the system provides a glimmer of hope that fewer families will have to wait years to learn who took their loved one’s life.
“Not knowing if another mother or father or any parent is going to go through what I’ve been through,” she said of hearing the shots outside her home.
Of the 63 alerts, Winston-Salem police say 20 were comprised of single gunshots, 36 were multiple gunshots and the remainder were categorized as probable gunfire.
The federal grant allowing the department to purchase the system totaled $699,908.